Climate change, pollution-related illnesses, and energy costs have prompted engineers and architects to develop green solutions. New residential and commercial building and renovations are designed to be more environmentally friendly, thereby reducing emissions, illnesses, and energy consumption. Using sustainable practices is a hot trend in renovation and new building development, one that was developed more than 50 years ago when most builders and designers gave the idea little thought.
During the 1940s and 1950s, consumers and professionals merely thought about the costs of building civic, commercial, and private structures. Words and phrases such as “greenhouse gases,” “sustainability,” and “carbon emissions” were not part of their lexicon. Forward thinkers of the time, however, could see that the industry needed to change its direction.
Individual efforts began, but without regulations or guidelines there was no consistency in the “green” construction movement. The United Nations helped get regulation started with their UNEP, an environmental branch of that organization. They defined “sustainability” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Health Consequences of Polluted Buildings
Sustainable building materials and practices are good for the earth and cleaner for those who work within the confines of a polluted work setting. Common pollutants include carbon monoxide, C02, Nitrous Oxides, VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), and PAHs (Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons). Between them these chemicals contribute to asthma, eye irritation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, bronchitis, and cancer. In certain cases, an individual will die from prolong exposure to such toxins at high levels.
Today, environmental regulators assess and rate buildings for their use of sustainable materials, use of water, energy, and other factors. They consider location, how materials impact their surroundings and employees, and how much energy is consumed. Importantly, sustainable buildings are far healthier environs in which to work, part of the reason recent survey show greater staff satisfaction within sustainable settings. Sustainable building materials are cleaner, thus producing far fewer toxins, and today 94% of architects worldwide say they are trying to “go green.”
The Green Road
Numbers of professionals who complete their projects are less cheery: 28% of architects and engineers say that 60% of project workers follow environmentally conscientious practices. In the US, 15% of new residential building projects conducted by 62% of American construction firms are green.
There are better figures in the non-residential field where up to 48% of construction in 2015 has been environmentally sensitive. Builders and designers use more sustainable products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are adapting methods in an effort to halt climate change. Participants in this industry understand what is at stake and how to reduce their carbon footprint far better than before. They build or alter structures to be more energy efficient.
LEED Gold Buildings use only ¾ of the energy, emit just 66% of the greenhouse gases, consume 11% less water, cost almost 20% less to maintain, and are significantly more pleasing to work in than settings where little or no thought has been given to sustainability. Water-efficient buildings have cut water usage, operation costs, and lowered energy consumption by between 10 and 15%. While the average person in a car-oriented, suburban workplace emits 11.8T of greenhouse gases annually, employees at LEED buildings only emit 4.6T.
Working with Geo-Environmental Materials
The construction industry creates a significant proportion of the waste produced in America. Changes are afoot, however, as contractors and owners of construction companies seek to reduce their impact by using recycled materials or recycling where possible. Work places are healthier and so is the environment around them.
Concrete is one of the worst offenders, used in huge quantities to produce structures of all kinds. Experts have developed a type of concrete which utilizes Fly Ash from coal burning as a part of the concrete mixture, a substance which reduces emissions. Carbon Concrete also reduces carbon emissions by isolating CO2.
Solar and wind power are two renewable sources of energy which, in their own right, create zero waste or emissions. By harnessing the sun’s power, the United States reduced CO2 emissions in 2014 by 13.8M tons. If solar and wind energy were combined to produce just 33% of Americans’ electricity, reduction in toxic emissions would be in the range of 22% to 34% depending on the toxin (NOx, SOx, or CO2).
Householders reduce water waste by using what nature has already provided: local plants. About 15% of a home’s water use is dedicated to watering foreign grasses and flowers. Landscaping with native species contributes to the sustainability. Designers and architects can conserve water and still add a touch of “green.”
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